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April 20, 1997

Much of The Times Orange County edition staff was called out to cover the October firestorm that ravaged Lemon Heights.


Orange County Press Club

1st Place: General Excellence, Breaking News


Winds Fuel Firestorms



Oct. 22, 1996

Firestorms fueled by furious winds blasted capriciously across Southern California on Monday, destroying more than 30 homes in northern San Diego County and 10 more in Orange County, while firefighters and residents fought fiercely overnight to save homes as flames roared to the Pacific Ocean into Malibu.

The widespread destruction conjured up the harrowing images of fires that ravaged the region just three years ago.

As with the tumultuous firestorms of 1993, emergency workers found themselves simultaneously fighting fires on several broad fronts:

* In the Orange County community of Lemon Heights, 10 homes were destroyed and 23 buildings were damaged by a fire sparked by a downed power line. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries before the blaze, which caused an estimated $3.5 million in damage, was declared out by early evening.

* In the northern San Diego County community of La Costa in the city of Carlsbad, at least 50 homes were destroyed in a fire that charred 4,500 acres. The fire of unknown origin broke out about 2 p.m. in the Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove areas. More than 1,000 people were forced to evacuate. * In Los Angeles County, fire raced from Calabasas to the Pacific Ocean, breaching Pacific Coast Highway in three places by 9:30 p.m. More than 10,000 acres were burned and hundreds of residents forced from their homes. Despite flames that dramatically filled the skies, only two homes and several sheds had been destroyed by late evening. The cause of the fire had not been determined.

The fires drew hundreds of firefighters, helicopters and water-dropping airplanes as residents fought the flames with hoses, buckets and bare hands. Some ran to their roofs, where they sprayed the flames with garden hoses. "I feel like I'm in a movie, a really bad movie," said Gail Neuman, a 43-year-old mother of four, as she stood outside her smoldering home near Lemon Heights. "I'm all cried out...."

The fires left an eerie scene: charred houses, yards crisscrossed with fire hoses, smoky skies and homeowners weeping in the ruins. "We couldn't save her house," Neela Mousavian sobbed. "I ran up the street and begged the firemen to come to my mother's house. I screamed, 'Please come, it's going to go.' But they didn't get there in time."

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